giving more than money

Every song has a story. This one has a story – and a lesson!

Our friend, Donald Butler, is the worship leader for Community of Faith (a church in Texas). Two summers ago he traveled with a band of friends from COF to Burundi for some time on the ground with our Batwa friends. You see, these two communities have been cultivating a friendship over the past set of years. You’d be hard pressed to find two more different groups – the invisible and marginalized Batwa people living deep in extreme poverty and the suburban Texans who come from the land of plenty. But we’ve all become friends with annual visits, and this was one such trip to be together.

While Donald spent time in Matara, the village our friends inhabit, he shared in cabbage planting, home construction, athletic Batwa dancing and holding of precious chocolate babies. He inhaled the air up on that mountain, he ingested their stories. And then he went away to the shore of Lake Tanganyika and wrote this song, We Will Remember.

He envisioned a song that could be sung by both our communities – in Burundi and in Texas. Together we will remember, we will watch our children grow, we will be grateful for His goodness to us all.

Once back home in Texas he polished the song, laying tracks and creating a companion video. Community of Faith learned this song, embraced it as witness to God’s work in some distant land where their Batwa friends lived. They celebrated with us.

As community development practitioners, the song moved Claude and I. The words so perfectly captured what we saw God doing among our Batwa friends day in and day out. The story is changing – and it meant a great deal to have Donald see it, name it, sing it to us. The song’s become an anthem for us. We are regaled with the blessings unfolding in this community every time we sing it, but we’re also exhorted to keep moving forward for others who want to taste that same freedom in their neighborhoods.

Over the summer Claude collaborated with two stellar worship leaders in Burundi, Apollonaire and David. Now they’d learned We Will Remember from a cd Donald sent to them, they knew the story and could sing it in English. But Claude envisioned more. So this past summer they worked to translate the song into Kirundi, the mother tongue of Burundi. Then they recorded the song.

Claude took the Kirundi cd and an old school boom box up to Matara. He wanted our Batwa friends to hear the song, maybe even learn the chorus.

When he returned, he heard the song before he even reached the top of the mountain. Women were singing it as they worked down in the fields, men sang it while milking the cows, kids were singing as they jumped rope. We Will Remember echoed everywhere up on this mountain.

Clustered together with the village leaders, Claude asked what they thought about the song Donald wrote. “These are our words, these are the words that tell our story” one said. The men and women shared that every word had been committed to memory by young and old because this was their story to remember, to tell, to pass down for generations.

The Batwa remain an oral culture. Songs and poetry carry their memories from one generation to the next. This song became the vessel for telling their own Exodus story, when God delivered them from deep wanting and moved them to a place of goodness and generosity toward neighbor. They will sing it, the children will sing it, even their grandchildren will sing and know and remember.

So the Batwa community of Matara, our friends Apollonaire and David as well as a local video duo worked together to create their version of We Will Remember. They wanted to help tell the story with their language, their images, their own embodiment of the words. So they sang, they filmed, they even acted out parts of their old story so their friends in Texas could hear the song with new ears.

A song sang from Texas to Batwa friends now was sung from Burundi to Texan friends. We sang to them, and they were now singing it back to us. We, together, will remember God’s goodness. The video was shown in all the services last Sunday at Community of Faith. Each time people stood to their feet applauding… some crying, all touched. It was as if our Batwa friends sang a blessing over us, imparting a bit more freedom to us.

And here is what still gets me… this is not about the money. Yes, our friends in Texas give money to help fund the community development work in Burundian communities. But this connection between two communities is not about funds, but about friendship. How can we become friends who help one another through the various seasons of our life? How can we be Jesus to one another? Well, sometimes we sing to each other from our story, in our language with hearts full of love. 

When appropriate we give money to help out our neighbor. But sometimes we put away the wallet, pick up the guitar and write a song. Sometimes we sing it in English or they sing it in Kirundi – but it is our song together. And as we sing we are all transformed by the same Spirit that is at work in Matara and Texas. And we recognize that our money is so small compared to the love we share together.

Honestly I wish more community development work was like this. I wish it wasn’t always about funding, measured outcomes, donor connections and vision trips. Imagine more songs, more dancing, more shared transformation between friends… I do. I dream about the great blessings and dignity when we sing together about God’s work among us as we make His dream come true in our varied neighborhoods.

Our best work is about more than giving money.

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